Leadership Barometer 35 Motivation

January 27, 2020

The concept of motivation is one of the most misunderstood terms in leadership education. Reason: Many leaders don’t fully understand the nature of motivation, so they try to achieve it using ineffective tools.

This article focuses on the learning from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and why those concepts can be used to create higher levels of motivation in any organization.

Typical low motivation

I believe the average organization obtains only a tiny fraction of the potential human effort that is available. My guess is that most organizations receive less than 30% of the discretionary effort that resides in its people.

Even if my number is off by quite a bit, it still means that we could double productivity and still have people working at less than their capacity. Wow, that represents some wonderful low hanging fruit. But how do we get that effort to come forth?

Motivate your people?

As a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you reveal a misunderstanding that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation. Seeking to “motivate employees” is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way are putting the cart before the horse.

While the temptation to get going may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy. Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation and catch the wind of trust. So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The horse is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The cart is what people ride in, or how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order and try to motivate people by simply trying to make them feel better? Some reasons may include:

Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace, we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to stay in the cart (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation and actually get to our destination. Why?

Because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. Enlightened leaders realize the only way to improve the culture is to build transparency and trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

When leaders approach motivation as something they “do to” the workers, it has the wrong connotation.

The word “motivate” should not be used as a verb.

I cannot motivate you. The only person who can truly motivate you is you.

Instead, I can create an environment where you choose to become motivated.

The difference between those two concepts sounds like double talk, but it is a crucial leadership concept to grasp.

Focusing on perks

Individuals will gladly take any perk you are willing to give, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, such as trust and empowerment.

Trying to force morale

Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a company cheer before employees are allowed to work.

There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.

The supervisor is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke.

Most people feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks.

It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.

In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors might allow this to happen?

The meeting itself

There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful.

Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles.

By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement.

It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding.

In some situations, managers use the morning meetings for reinforcing good behavior. This technique can help, but it must be sincere or it will actually backfire. Insincere praise is deadly in an organization because it lowers trust.

So, if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.

The centering thoughts

Rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers.

They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.

A pre-existing environment of trust

If the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility.

This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort.

At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are often helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.

Employee ownership

If the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then it has a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event.

This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence.

The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits by feeding a silo mentality.

In an excellent environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.

In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization.

Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Since many organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit.

No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of Adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics


Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”